A CHECK TO AN UNGOVERNED TONGUE: Part Six. Tongue-Murder, and Reproachful Language

Taken and adapted from, “THE MISCELLANEOUS WORKS OF THE REV. MATTHEW HENRY” Volume I
Published in 1833.

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Scurrilous and reproachful language given to those you have dealings with, or power over, is another evidence of an ungoverned tongue.

This is that which our Savior has told us is a breach of the sixth commandment, Thou shall not kill; it is tongue-murder, a sin exceedingly sinful, and certainly damning to the sinner if it be not repented of and forsaken; so he has forewarned us, who is to be our Judge. We are sure that his judgment will be according to the truth of his word; and he has said, (Matthew 5:22.) Whosoever shall, in wrath and passion, say to his brother, “Raca,” Thou base, empty fellow, rogue, and rascal, (for Raca was used then as those opprobrious names are now,) he that does so shall be in danger of the council, that is, shall be exposed to the wrath and curse of the eternal God; and not only so, but if he had his desert should be called to an account for it by the civil magistrate, for it is an iniquity to be punished by the judge. And whosoever shall in like manner say, Thou fool; thou reprobate, thou wicked wretch, thou damned confounded fellow, shall himself be in danger of that hell fire, to which he so rashly condemns his brother.

Calling foul names, and giving foul language, especially to servants and inferiors, is grown so very common among us, that with those who live at large, and not only set their mouth against the heavens, but let their tongue walk at liberty through the earth, (Psalms 73: 9) it is looked upon as part of the accomplishment of a gentleman to be able to do it blusteringly, and with fluency and variety; and yet, perhaps, there are those of the meanest rank who may vie with them, and can do it with as good a grace.

But however common it is, and how much it is ever countenanced by the practice of some who make a figure, you see it is a sin expressly against the law of Christ, and is certainly included, and perhaps principally intended, in that bitterness and wrath, that clamor and evil speaking, which ought to be put far from us, lest we grieve the Holy Spirit of God, Eph.4:30, 31.

You who allow yourselves this liberty of abusing all about you, and of dealing nick-names, and names of reproach, at your pleasure among those you converse with, or have power over; shall I propound two or three things to your serious thoughts?

1  Consider who they are that you thus abuse and trample upon, thus taunt and hector over, are they not your fellow-creatures, of the same rank of beings with yourselves? Were not you made of the same clay that they were, and as mean as they in your original? Were not they made by the same great and mighty hand that you were, and as honorable as you in their relation to the Father of spirits? This consideration swayed with holy Job to carry it with all possible tenderness and respect, even to his own servant, when he contended with him, (Job 31:15.) Did not he that made me in the womb make him? And the same argument is urged in a case not much unlike, (Malachi 2:10.) Have we not all one Father? Why then do we deal treacherously every man against his brother?

Perhaps those whom you so readily, and with so great an assurance, call “fools “and “knaves,” have as much ingenuity and integrity as yourselves; nay it may be they are every way wiser and better. However, as the apostle argues, (James 3:9) they are made after the similitude of God, they are of that species of creatures which was at first so made; and therefore God is reflected on by the ignominious treatment you give them. If they have natural defects and infirmities of body or mind, which they cannot help, those ought not to he turned to their reproach, for they are as God made them, and he might have made you so. If their condition in the world be mean and despicable, and the distance that Providence has put between you and them seems great, it does not therefore follow that you may give them what language and what usage you please. Though God be high, yet has he respect unto the lowly; much more should you. He that mocks the poor, reproaches his Maker, (Prov. 17:5) not only him that made him, but him that made him poor.

The crime is much aggravated if those you thus abuse are pious and good, such as by grace are renewed after the image of God, and made partakers of his holiness, which possibly they may be, and yet not be numbered among either the witty or the wealthy part of mankind. Whatever you may think of yourselves, in comparison with those you thus insult over, a wiser than you, even infinite wisdom itself, has said it once, yea twice, (Prov. 19:1, and Prov. 28:6.) Better is the poor that walks in his integrity than he that is perverse in his lips, though he be rich. Will you then despise those whom God has honored, and lay those under your feet whom God has laid in his bosom? Dare you put those among the dogs of your flock, whom Christ has put among the lambs of his flock?

2  Consider, that there is no good done by this sort of language, -but a great deal of hurt. What desirable end can you propose to yourselves in it? You would be obeyed, you would be feared, and will not the meekness of wisdom command respect a thousand times better than the outrages of folly? It is certain there is nothing you say, which is introduced and accented with this rude and boisterous language, but the same thing might be better said, and to much better purpose, if it were not so prefaced. Solomon’s observation holds true, that the words of wise men are heard in quiet, more than the cry of him that rules among fools, Eccl. 9:17. Nay, you do a great deal of hurt by using yourselves to such language.

(1.) You disturb and provoke others by it. These grievous words stir up anger; and who knows how long that anger may last, what it may produce, and where it may end t nor how great a matter a little fire of this kind may kindle! Put your souls into their souls’ stead whom you thus abuse, and consider if you were in poverty and meanness, and in an inferior relation, how you would like it, and how you could bear it, to be rated and trampled on, and called by so many ill names: and do not that to others which you would not should be done to you.

(2.) You disgrace and disparage yourselves by it. While you think hereby to keep up your authority, and make yourselves great and formidable, you really prostitute your authority, and render your selves mean and contemptible, and give just occasion to those you abuse to think as ill of you as you say of them, though they dare not speak it out. You declare plainly,

[1.] That you are slaves to your own passions, which is as toilsome and dishonorable a slavery as a man can be in: you say that in the heat of passion, which you yourselves could scarce turn your tongues to if you were sober and calm, and thereby proclaim passion king over you, that great leviathan who is king over all the children of pride, Job 41: 34.

[2.] That you are not masters of your own reason; your anger is a fit of madness, and for the time your wisdom is departed from you. When in wrath you call others fools, the reproach returns upon your own heads. Some of this foul ill-favored language you use to give, carries along with it its own conviction of absurdity. You will call him a “dog,” whom you see to be a man, and a “bastard,” whom you really take to be legitimate: and what sense is there in this? Does this become one who pretends to reason? Blush at it for shame, and resolve never again to make such a fool of thyself.

3  Consider how obnoxious you yourselves are to the righteous judgment of God. If you seriously retire into your own hearts, and impartially reflect upon your own ways, you will find that you have much more reason to reproach yourselves for your provocations against God, than to fall foul upon your servants or others for their defects in their duty to you. We ought to forbear threatening, and to moderate it, (Eph. 6: 9) for what would become of us if God should enter into judgment with us? When we taunt others for their dullness and folly, their carelessness and forgetfulness, we ought to remember the same things against ourselves, and then we shall only give just and gentle reproofs, and not senseless and furious reproaches. Holy Job restrained himself from the heats of passion, with this consideration, (Job 31:14.) What then shall I do when God rises up? And when he visits, what shall I answer him? Think not that the strength of your passion will be a sufficient excuse for the indecencies of your language.

The sin of the heart will never justify the sin of the tongue; but on the contrary, the sin of the tongue will aggravate the sin of the heart. Resolve therefore for the future, whenever your heart is hot within you, that you will keep your mouth as with a bridle.